August 13, 2022 11 min read
Megan Hine is a survivalist and adventurer whose unique set of skills have taken her to remote corners of the world leading expeditions, presenting TV series and even consulting Bear Grylls on all things survival. I was lucky enough to catch up with her to chat about her journey from being a kid who loved camping Welsh mountains to a woman who spends most of her life in the wilderness, occasionally with nothing but her knife.
You spent a lot of time outdoors as a kid, was this the catalyst for your career in adventure? Was there anything else you thought you’d end up doing?
I guess I was really lucky when I was a kid that so much of my childhood was spent outside. Both my parents were really into the outdoors, my dad was a geologist, and my mum was a physical geographer, so we spent a lot of time going hiking around the UK. From the age of about 12 I was going off on my own into the hills behind my parents house and wild camping, which in hindsight is amazing thinking of me out there by myself with my little tent.
As I got older I was very involved with the military cadets, I did a lot of adventure training and things like winter climbing in Scotland. I just loved being outside and pushing myself, but I had no idea that a career in the outdoors existed. So when I left school I had actually got a place at Sandhurst for military training, but I’d also got a place to study marine biology at University as well and I wasn't sure which one I was going to do. I took a year out and went out to New Zealand and by a stroke of luck or fate, whatever it might be, I ended up working in outdoor centre out there for for the year on South Island. I realised that there was a huge outdoor industry and that's how my career started. I picked up my outdoor qualifications quite early on and that's how I funded my way through university. I did a degree in Outdoor Studies, which was like three years of climbing on student loans. I spent a year of that out in Prague studying and that's when I really got into the soft skills, the philosophy and psychology of why we go into the outdoors, which set the set the tone of how I interact with nature and the world around me.
You started all of this after your bushcraft session, I feel like bushcraft is quite a niche activity, what was the draw for you?
I was camping out one night and I realised I call myself an outdoor enthusiast, I spend all my time outside, I'm taking people in the mountains going climbing but everything I do is to protect myself from nature. When I'm climbing I'm putting gear in the rock, wearing my waterproof shell and getting into my tent, zipping it up, it's not really working with with nature it’s kind of fighting it. I didn't know the names of any of the trees, the birds and a thing around me.
Just after that a friend of mine, he got some tickets to a bushcraft show taught by bushcraft instructor and I had no idea what that was, but there was free beer. So I went along and it just blew my mind the knowledge that this guy had about the natural world, the medicinal use of plants and all the properties of the trees. Off the back of that I went on their website to see if they had any jobs going or courses and they were looking for apprentices. I applied thinking, you know, I hadn’t heard of bushcraft before today but they invited me along to a selection weekend and I got the position. I spent next few years in a really intensive apprenticeship then I started working with them on expeditions as well, so co-leading more anthropological based expeditions.
During your Outdoor Education Degree you undertook a week in the Spanish Mountains with nothing but yourself and your bivvy bag - what drove you to make the decision not to take a tent as most of your classmates did?
So the module I was doing was called ‘a personal response to a mountain environment’. I guess, because I had spent so much time in tents, at that point it just just seemed like the natural thing to do was to go up and take no tent or food, there was never any question that I wasn't going to do it. I didn't have a watch, I took a sleeping bag, a bivvy bag, a water canteen and an axe.
I found like this incredible bit underneath a boulder and I made like a wall around it. I had an amazing time, it was almost like an out of body experience. I have spent many nights camping, living in hammocks and bivvying since then but that still really stands out. It's quite a defining moment I think in terms of personal development and just a feeling of really belonging in the environment. I held on up there for 6 days. It came to the final day and I came down to where we were supposed to meet the group and there was only one other person there. Everyone else had already gone down and I just think, if I'd been in a tent, maybe I would have got bored and gone down too, I don't know.
How do you even start planning an expedition for a client? What are all the elements needing to come together?
That's a brilliant question, I don't think these things get talked about enough. I've got some long standing clients, who want to have quite unique experiences, they’ll ask me where do you suggest we go, we want to do something quite different. So I'll start the conversation asking what are they envisioning in terms of an environment or a terrain, is it mountains, jungles etc… Then we take it from there.
I will always work very closely with an in country agent and fortunately enough, through the expedition work and the film work that I do, I have an incredible network all over the globe of people that I trust can help me facilitate experiences in various countries. So I'll be in touch with them and we'll be looking at the best time of year to go and the logistics of it all. Before we even get out there, there's a huge amount of research and planning, looking at evacuation plans and writing risk assessments. What I'm basically doing is creating myself a supportive safety net. So very often expeditions, just like life, don't go to plan. Something might happen that's totally out of your control, I've been in situations where I’ve stumbled across opium farmers and been chased through the jungle, come across huge predators or landslides and we have to divert or change the expedition, but I'm able to do that because I've done the preparation beforehand. I will have a satellite phone with me, so I've got communication with the outside world, because it would be really irresponsible of me now, when that technology exists, to be leading people into these environments without it. Once we're on the expedition, I don't have to worry about that, I know in my head how I can get somebody out of this problem. I mean sometimes we may be 24 hours from help. It's always a concern in terms of getting somebody out if they get bitten by a snake or they have a serious accident, but then there is an element of risk and inherent risk doing the expeditions.
I’ve seen you posting about all the pre expedition training you are doing for resilience in motion - how do you decide what training to do and how do you try to recreate the conditions?
With my private clients I will check in with them regularly to make sure that they are actually training and moving. With a lot of clients, because they're often from a corporate background, they've got a huge amount of responsibility, so I have to work with them very closely to be able to facilitate small changes in their lifestyle, because it's very difficult. As anyone will know who's tried to set a New Year's resolution, it's very hard to bring massive change into your life. Our lives are so busy already we try to bring in small things. So taking the stairs rather than the elevator, walking to work with a backpack on, building them up slowly and starting to create space in their everyday lives to be moving their body more.
Resilience in motion is a project that I'm doing this with two other women. The purpose of this mission is to explore mental health and resilience. To bring that message to the world, sort of reconnecting with yourself, other people and the natural world around us and therapeutic benefits of that. We are basically showcasing life condensed if you like, as we go through the challenges that we're gonna have to overcome the communication issues that we're going to face.
You’ve been caught in so many dangerous or as you would say ‘exciting’ situations, what has been the one that really stood out to you?
A huge part of the work that I do within the film work, TV work and also the expedition work is used to mitigate for risks, so to build that safety net. I'm always thinking worst case scenario and making sure that everything's in place to make sure that or to minimise the chances of that happening, but with the very nature of the environments that we are going into, there is an inherent risk. Things do happen, that there might be a political uprising or environmental issue or something that that comes out of nowhere that just couldn't have been predicted. Because I'm responsible for other people, I can't fall apart in those situations, so I guess over time and with experience I’ve become very good at managing my own emotions and fear and anxiety in those moments.
The situation that really kind of like caused me them quite a lot of like distress was actually getting Lyme disease, I got bitten by a tick when I'd been working in the Lake District. I just didn't realise how serious it was at the time. I had a month climbing out in the Alps and I wanted to climb so I'd be like curled up above crag with this intense headache, and then the headache would go and I'd climb and I push myself really hard. I basically push the Lyme disease into my central nervous system and it took a long time to get it back out again. I ended up doing like a lot of research and I think this is something just to be aware of. It's not all ticks carry it. So if you've been bitten the chances of you actually getting it are very slim, but it's just being aware of the fact that is actually becoming more prevalent in the UK. If you treat it straightaway, there's usually no after effects, it's gone. It's just because I didn't treat it straight away so it took like it took a year to get it out and then probably a few more years after that to fully get my energy levels back up.
Can you remember when you first started, any mistakes you made and how people can prevent that from happening?
There’s bound to be lots of mistakes with kit and equipment and not planning properly in terms of route selection and things like that. Something that I was quite fortunate with and something I'd love to see more in the UK is working with more experienced people. I suppose I feel fortunate that through the apprenticeship and as my career started developing within the outdoor industry I worked as an assistant leader before I went and led my own expeditions. For example if I was in a jungle, I'd be working with jungle warfare specialists and indigenous peoples as well. I was learning from those amazing people and I think you get these beautiful images on social media, but you don't see this backstory behind or the many years of experience it's taken to get to the point where you can go and take that photo. There's a whole Outdoor Industry of guides instructors in whatever outdoor discipline that you want to learn that don't break the bank and you can book a one on one course or go as a group. Always talk to locals wherever you go as well. By having conversation with people you discover new areas and you discover stuff about the local area as well.
How would you recommend everyday people go about challenging themselves and taking on more extreme adventures?
Find the fun in it, there’s gonna be times where it's really shit, we live in the UK so the weather sucks, but it's finding fun in those those moments as well. It's learning from those experiences and trying to keep a sense of humour when it's all going wrong. If every experience that you're having is absolutely miserable, then maybe rethink, take a step back a little bit and actually go and do something that you really enjoy doing.
I read in your book you have become quite good at telling what people would be like on an adventure, can you tell me what makes a good survivalist?
This is a huge generalisation, but there is a difference between the way that men and women approach adventure and going into the outdoors. Guys just want to do something, so they kind of just throw themselves in, and are like, oh, that’ll be alright. Whereas women typically tend to want to build up like a strong foundation of understanding, of knowledge and trust in themselves before they take that step.
Questioning, wanting to learn and curiosity is what keeps an open mind and that's actually what keeps you safe in that environment. That's your survival mechanism talking because you're then able to assess the situation and the environment. Wherever you want to go with your adventures, keep that curiosity going.
Being a woman in a traditionally male dominated field, has it been tough to prove yourself or has it been a super supportive environment?
So I guess, in terms of personal performance and personal attraction to adventurous sports I never thought about my gender. When I first started working within the bushcraft industry in particular, it was a very tiny industry. There were only a few companies at the time and there weren't any other women. I realised that I had to work a lot harder than my male colleagues to get the same recognition or for clients to ask me a question. For example if they had a question about knife sharpening, they'd go to one of my male colleagues, not to me and when I was younger it used to really upset me.
Leading groups and working on film projects we are often going to remote into areas where women are not equal and my ego would get triggered and I get incredibly upset.I spent many nights in floods of tears, trying to figure out leadership in these environments, but with age and with experiences, I give less of a shit, I'm there to do a job and that's my goal. I guess I’m more confident in myself and my own abilities to be able to find ways of getting the job done in those environments while respecting local traditions and culture within the film work I do.
In terms of getting more women in front of camera and on screen it's really difficult. It's a huge topic that I'm trying to address at the moment and it’s very frustrating, but we're getting there. We're getting there slowly.
Is there anything else you would like to say to our readers?
Just do your research. It's great to get out and be wild camping etc… but just be aware of the rules and regulations in those areas and put your tent up last thing in the evening, take it down first thing in the morning. They shouldn't really be left up all day up in those mountain environments. Please take your rubbish home with you. Don't leave it all over the mountainside. It makes such a mess and goats and sheep eat that plastic and it's causing them trouble too.
Thanks again to Megan for taking the time to chat! You can follow Megan on her adventures here.
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